Action plan put forward to tackle Jersey's housing crisis

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FRESH bids for a landlord licensing scheme, an empty-property tax and a government-backed shared-equity scheme to support first-time buyers are among a raft of measures being proposed to tackle the Island’s housing crisis.

States Members will be asked to approve an amendment to the government’s Common Strategic Policy from Deputy Sam Mézec when it is debated later this month.

Also among his proposals, the Reform Jersey Deputy has called for recommendations made in a homelessness strategy to be implemented; a requirement that all homes built on publicly owned land to be for first-time-buyers, social rental housing or downsizers; and the introduction of a ‘first right of refusal’ for private-sector tenants to purchase their homes when their landlord decides to sell.

One of the seven aims of Chief Minister Kristina Moore and her ministerial team’s Common Strategic Policy relates to housing and the cost of living. The policy states that the government will aim to ‘improve access to, and supply of, good-quality affordable housing, and help people to achieve a decent standard of living’.

In his amendment, Deputy Mézec says: ‘Jersey has a housing crisis.

‘The Common Strategic Policy report makes one brief reference to this fact and then lists some laudable high-level ambitions on how this will be resolved but provides little detail on how this will actually be done.

‘It is all well and good to say “we will promote and support home ownership” or “we will improve the quality of rental accommodation” but what matters is the detail on how these things will be achieved. What will the government actually do to realise these ambitions?

‘This amendment seeks to provide clear proposals for the Assembly to agree to, which will have a tangible impact in achieving the ambitions set out in the CSP.’

One of the measures Deputy Mézec is bringing back to the States Assembly is for the reintroduction of a landlord licensing scheme, which had originally been proposed by former Environment Minister John Young.

In both 2020 and 2021, then-Deputy Young brought forward proposals which would have required landlords to be licensed to lease their properties after it was revealed that 2,900 out of 3,000 rental homes inspected had failed to meet minimum health and safety standards since tighter regulations were introduced in 2018. However, on both occasions the propositions were narrowly defeated.

During the States sitting in which she was elected as Chief Minister, Deputy Moore said her decision to reject the proposal was ‘perhaps not one of my finest votes at the last Assembly’.

And a shared-equity scheme would also be set up, using £10 million of funding which was set aside in the previous Government Plan, should the amendment be approved. The amendment states: ‘The £10m pot for first-time buyers has been in successive Government Plans for several years now. Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic delayed work being done to construct a scheme to most effectively direct this money. The time has come now to commit to it being used.’

Deputy Mézec, who is a former Housing Minister, also calls for the introduction of an empty-property tax. Last month, he wrote to Deputy Moore asking for an explanation as to why a previous proposition from his Reform Jersey colleague Deputy Montfort Tadier calling for the Housing Minister to ‘publish options for introducing an empty-property tax by the end of September’ remained outstanding.

‘If just a proportion of the circa 4,000 homes which were declared to be empty at the last census were brought back into permanent use, it could increase the supply of homes without expanding the footprint that our housing stock takes up and allow us to meet more of our housing needs without destroying more of our green spaces,’ Deputy Mézec argues in his amendment.

And, if the amendment is supported, it would also see the recommendations of the Jersey Homelessness Strategic Board 2021 report, which included eight key priorities designed to reduce, and eventually eliminate, homelessness, put in place. In their recommendations, the board said that a legal definition of homelessness should be provided, further research should be undertaken to investigate the scale of the issue in Jersey, a housing advice hub should be set up and provision for a housing ‘safety net’ should be created for all where appropriate.

Deputy Mézec also suggests a new Residential Tenancy Law to provide European-style rent stabilisation – which typically include greater protection for tenants and caps on rent rises – and open-ended tenancies.

He said that the majority of his proposals were first put forward in a report of the Housing Policy Development Board.

In his amendment, Deputy Mézec added: ‘The board’s report was published in April 2021, many months after its completion. The then Housing Minister [Russell Labey] made reference to it in his “Creating Better Homes” report, but faced criticism for the lack of tangible action proposed and the lack of clarity as to whether the details of the HPDB’s recommendations were actually accepted.

‘Sadly, this report appears to have been forgotten about and instead the preference of the government appears to be to re-run this exercise and hold more reviews and consultations before committing to action. This is an indulgence which simply wastes more time whilst many people in Jersey continue to see their quality of life decline.

‘In accepting this amendment, the States Assembly would finally be confirming its political support for a tangible package of policies, rather than more empty rhetoric or prevarication.’

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